Background A high HIV prevalence (19–32%) has been reported among men who have sex with men (MSM) in South India. Indeed, sexual networks play a central role in the spread of HIV in these communities but have rarely been studied because of intense social stigma and methodological and ethical challenges. Although cell phones are commonly used among MSM to contact sexual partners in India, few studies have explored the formation of such sexual networks. This study sought to understand the structure, context and evolution of cell phone-based sexual networks of MSM in three South Indian cities.
Methods Sampling frames in the three cities were established using MSM contacts stored in the cell phones of community-based researchers (CBRs). Study participant “seeds” were randomly selected from these social networks. Seeds were asked to recruit their sexual partners, who completed surveys about their sexual practices with regular partners and 7-day partners. Network diagrams were constructed using non-nominal codes linking study participants.
Results Cell phone contacts represent a useful resource for constructing social networks. Preliminary results indicate the diversity of sexual networks and sexual practices within these networks.
Conclusions New community-based methods of exploring sexual networks were assessed, and sexual practices, partner concurrency, and risk behaviours were explored. This information can be used to tailor more specific services for MSM in these communities. As this methodology sampled from social networks, more hidden “individuals who do not access health services were included in the study.”
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